The foundation of a strong competitive college application is made up of three pieces of information: a student’s transcript, GPA/class rank, and SAT/ACT scores. Now, there are several schools of thought reference the order of importance of these three components and each college or university will also have its own preference. However, it’s quickly evident that they are all linked and each very important.
• Transcript - From the perspective of a college admissions officer, the transcript is the most important part of any application. A transcript shows an applicant’s progress over the course of four years: course selection, rigor, electives and corresponding grades. They’ll be looking to see if it shows steady upward movement in course difficulty? Were there any academic recognitions? Any dips in grades or disciplinary issues over those four years, and if so, what was the cause? Four years of effort, or lack of, will be reflected in this one document.
• GPA/Class Rank - A by-product of the transcript, the GPA/class rank is calculated based on the grades, and corresponding credits, in the classes taken and from it comes the class rank. Students use their GPA to determine whether a school is a reach, target or safety. Gpa/class rank will be calculated by admission officers for those schools who don’t have them and certain levels of GPA and class rank might result in merit scholarships as well.
• SAT/ACT - Two standardized tests, one measuring reasoning and the other learned material, act as a means of sorting applications at many schools. Scores tend to stay in step with the rigor of the transcript. A strong applicant will, by default, have strong scores, while students with a weaker academic profile often end up with weaker scores. If the scores are off kilter with the GPA/class rank, students either retake the test or an explanation on the application might be necessary. Many applicants take both tests because some fare better on one test over the other. We have had much success with the applications of students with lopsided academic profile which require a little more creativity to put the focus on the strengths versus the weaknesses..
In any case, it’s evident that these three components are all inter-related and inter-dependent. Extra curricular activities, a well written college essay and short answer essays complete the image an applicant aims to present to the admissions officers.
Lastly, students should make sure to use every inch of their application to present as many details about themselves as possible without repeating or reformatting information already available to admissions officers. Triage your information and let the schools decide what they will use and what they won’t.